Borderline Personality Disorder has an anxiety monster that lives in our heads

Most of us who have been diagnosed with BPD know all too well the anxiety monster that lives in your heads. I have long believed that anxiety fuels BPD but the real question is: which came first, BPD or Anxiety?

First, I think it is important to examine what anxiety is. Anxiety is your body’s natural reaction to fear. It can manifest itself in many different ways. Many people say they experience a racing heart, or rapid breathing, their hands may get clammy or sweat, or they may feel fluttering in your stomach. Some people experience a great burst of adrenaline or a burst of energy.

Fight or Flight response comes from a place in your brain called the amygdala.

Anxiety is generated in a place in the brain called the amygdala which is a primitive part of our brains left over from our “cave man” days. It generates something called the “fight or flight” response. This response is a chemical response to perceived fear. In ancient days it was important because it was a signal to us that danger was lurking nearby. It readied us to either stand and defend our territory or our people/ourselves or run away. It was a survival instinct. It helped keep us alive. Today, we rarely encounter saber tooth tigers when we are out walking our neighborhoods but the fight or flight reaction is still very important. But what happens if it gets stuck in overdrive? Many of us with BPD have an overstimulated fight or flight response which has been caused by past trauma. So, we become hyper=vigilant to what is going on around us and our brains can trick us into perceiving danger when there really is none present and that’s when we slip over the edge into full-blown anxiety.

My first anxiety attack felt like I was having a heart attack

I lived with anxiety most of my life. The first time I experienced a panic attack, I thought I was having a heart attack. EMTs were called and they quickly ascertained that it was simply an anxiety attack and, as reassuring as that was to hear, it did not make it go away. Since then, I’ve learned a lot of things about anxiety and that includes how to manage it.

First of all, though you are positive you are going to die, anxiety will NOT kill you

You will no doubt feel awful while it is happening but you won’t die. You’ll just feel like you’re going to. There is some good news about anxiety! And that is it is possible to teach yourself how to get out of a panic attack.

I used something called Box Breathing and I swear by it.

This technique uses breathing to modulate your heart rate and calm yourself. It is very easy to learn but, as I tell everyone to whom I teach it, it is not a quick fix. It requires practice and repetition. I advise my clients to practice it at LEAST twice per day for 30 days. Why? Because you want to incorporate it so well into your daily routine that when you start to feel panicked you can call upon it instantly to help calm yourself. It goes like this:

Here is how to make the best use of Box Breathing

  • Go into a dimly lit room where you won’t be disturbed.Put on some soothing music. I use an app called Rain Rain and listen to the “ocean sounds. You can get it here for free. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down. But you want to make sure you don’t fall asleep. The purpose is to relax yourself, not go to sleep.

  • Now, imagine a box in your mind’s eye. It can be large or small. You are going to trace the outline of the box with your mind’s eye starting in the bottom left corner.

  • Breathe in on a four count while moving your eye UP from the bottom left corner to the top left corner.

  • Breathe out for four counts. Breathe IN for four counts and move your eye from the TOP left corner across to the top RIGHT corner. Breathe out for four counts. Breathe in for four counts while moving your eye from the TOP RIGHT corner down to the Bottom RIGHT corner.

  • Breathe out for four counts. Breathe in for four counts while moving your eye from the bottom right corner to the bottom left corner.

  • Breathe out. Continue this pattern again and again for ten minutes. If you do this enough times you will eventually be able to call upon it when you are feeling panicked.

Pay attention to your physical symptoms when you start to feel panicked

Do you have sweaty palms? Can you feel your heart racing? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? If so, note those physical manifestations because they will become your best friends as you start to practice this technique. Those will be your cues later after you have mastered this technique. When you start to feel them, start to practice Box Breathing. You will eventually get to the point where you can even head an anxiety attack off before it gets going.

If you are already in a full blown panic attack, use something called the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. To do this, you do the following:

  • Name 5 things you can see in your immediate space. I can be anything, your coat, your baseball cap, your pen.

  • Name 4 things you can touch. Again, anything, your sleeve, your face, your hair.

  • Name 3 things you can hear right away. A train in the distance, a bee buzzing nearby, a dog barking in the neighborhood.

  • Name 2 things you can smell: fragrance from your garden, your own sweat, the newly cut lawn across the street.

  • Name 1 thing you can taste, your cup of coffee, your toothpaste, the lemon in your tea. None of these things have to be elaborate.

The purpose of this exercise is a mindful one. To bring you back into the present instead of spiraling back into your past trauma or getting stuck in the future what if. I hope this helps you the way it has helped me.